Khaled Mashaal, Hamas chief, visits Gaza for first time


Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal (C-L) and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya (C-R) wave from the rooftop of a vehicle during a parade following Meshaal's arrival in Rafah, southern Gaza, on December 7, 2012. Meshaal is making his first-ever visit to the Gaza Strip amid tight security for festivities marking the ruling Islamist movement's 25th anniversary.



Khaled Mashaal, Hamas' chief, visited the Gaza Strip for the first time Friday.

The Associated Press noted that the trip signals growing acceptance of the militant movement in the region as well as a "grudging acquiescence" by Israel.

Mashaal arrived on Friday for a three-day tour, coinciding with Hamas' 25th anniversary rally on Saturday. The AP reported that he was scheduled to visit the former homes of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari and Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, both of whom were assassinated by Israel.

"Gaza was deep in my heart," Mashaal told reporters after arriving at the Rafah border crossing where he met Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, according to Bloomberg.

"Without all of you, I wouldn’t be here. I owe you and all the militants," Mashaal told the crowds. "Today is Gaza, it will be followed by Ramallah and Jerusalem."

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Mashaal's visit comes just two weeks after a cease-fire ended the bloodshed between Israel and Hamas, which saw rockets launched from Gaza into Israel and Israeli airstrikes falling on the Gaza Strip.

NBC News reported that Mashaal, 56, is the senior most figure in Hamas and oversees the political wing and the military wing, known as the Al Qassam Brigades.

The visit also signals Hamas' confidence that Israel will hold to the cease-fire and refrain from assassination attempts, said NBC News. Mashaal's trip also affords Hamas an opportunity to reconcile differences between the internal leadership and the one in exile.

"Israel always violates agreements but Israel will be condemned if it doesn't abide by this written agreement under Egyptian sponsorship and US presence," Mashaal told Reuters last week. "The world witnessed it."

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